I grew up on the idea that Christ’s coming again at the end of this age was in two parts. First, he came to take the church away (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Second, he came seven years later, after The Great Tribulation, to judge and condemn those who were unbelievers. Any who had believed during The Great Tribulation period were also rescued in this second, Second Coming.

Rapture Until I was 20 years old I believed this so ardently that it deeply impacted how I lived. It also impacted many of those around me. I led a gospel team in college and several members of my team dropped out of college because they really believed that Christ was coming very soon to “rapture” the church. (The term rapture comes from a translation of the word in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 where Paul says those who remain will be “caught up” to meet Christ in the air!) I can still remember hearing the famous Hal Lindsey speak on the coming “Great Snatch” when I was a freshman at the University of Alabama. I went out and bought several major books on prophecy and began to study and prepare for the Rapture. I even planned my future based on the idea that Lindsey taught that my generation would see Christ come again.

It wasn’t until I got to Wheaton College in 1970 that I began to doubt all of this. I did a paper on the subject and read George E. Ladd’s book, The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture. Blessed Hope I was so initially upset by this book that I wanted to throw it in the trash! It shook me up and unsettled a firmly held tenet in my system that I had held since childhood. (My mom ardently believed this and taught it to me even though none of my pastors ever taught it growing up in Southern Baptist churches.) Over the course of that semester I studied, read and thought a great deal about the biblical teaching on this subject. I even attended a home study group to get into it more deeply. By the end of that term my mind was changed. My mother was always disappointed and over time I learned not to bring this up to mom because of my respect and love for her.

Now, more than forty years later, it is quite tempting to mock people who hold this idea about Christ’s return but I must recall that some of the most godly people I’ve ever known believed it. This checks my inclination to make fun of people who believe this teaching.

Having said this I simply cannot abide this teaching in any way. It is just plain wrong. Sometimes it is so wrong that it does great harm in the hands of zealots. We’ve had more than our share of predictions about the end go wrong of late. But even this will not stop those filled with rapture fever from speculating about the days that we live in and the coming of Jesus. Americans are unusually prone to this teaching since they think things are getting worse and worse in “these last days” and they want to live well and then escape before it gets really, really bad.

Second Coming of Christ There are a number of problems with this teaching. For starters everyone should admit that if you hold this view you really do teach that there are “two second comings of Jesus.” He comes again and then again. In fact, when we sang the chorus “Jesus Is Coming Again” at Campus Crusade meetings at Alabama in 1967-69 some of us sang, “Jesus is coming again, and again . . .” Think about this. It is patently ludicrous to draw such a conclusion on the basis of any simple reading of the New Testament. You have to adopt a highly developed and terribly unbiblical system and then look for “two comings” to get two!

Another problem with this teaching is the way it stirs people up to do all kinds of silly things that are often truly harmful to godly Christian living. Rapture fever is dangerous and it harms some Christians. (Yes, there are some pre-tribulation teachers who avoid the wild nonsense but they are honestly quite rare.) I was listening to one of the hosts on the Moody Radio Network last week. She speaks routinely about the rapture as if she is quite sure it has to be near. She was talking about the economy, the president, etc. This teaching impacts everything she says and does. She connects the dots and always seems to get back to the Rapture being near. I can’t listen anymore. I have actually reprogrammed my radio selections so I do not accidentally hit that button. I will listen to two programs on the  Moody Network and go to these two when I am in the car but I will have no more accidental hits. They only irritate me so I best remove the source to drive safely.

An excellent article appeared in the Bloomberg Businessweek on July 28th about the financial profits that are being made by people who teach rapture doctrine. This article asks if the present economic crisis provides a context for the increase of this popular teaching? The answer is affirmed in the positive. Here is one statement that writer Peter Savodnik makes in his Bloomberg report:

This means there are only so many days left to get rich. Strandberg, the proprietor of RaptureReady.com—the most popular Rapture-preparedness website in the world—is part of a new generation of entrepreneurs trying to take advantage of Camping’s absence. Unlike Camping, the new apocalypse establishment is offering an unprecedented array of doomsday-themed literature, podcasts, survival kits, and other goods and services for navigating the end of times.

But the writer goes on to name others who have benefited in a number of ways including Jack Van Impe, Tim LaHaye, et al. Here is one of the most impressive insights that Savodnik provides:

Yet the dirty little secret about the Rapture trade is that it’s run by people who often hope there is no Rapture. The trick is to encourage belief in—and spending on—the Rapture for as long as possible. Camping’s most recent failed prophecy—his fifth—has reaffirmed many Rapture-based entrepreneurs’ conviction that staying vague is the best plan. Terry James, who co-runs RaptureReady.com with Strandberg, recently published his 22nd book on the end of the world. “We don’t set dates,” he says. “That’s one thing that Jesus said. No one knows the hour except the Father.” Left Behind author LaHaye urges his readers to log on to his site to “take your time, browse around, but by all means, get prepared for the coming of the Lord”—whenever that happens.

Next time someone starts talking about the Rapture being soon tell them that you also believe Jesus is coming back – once and for all, not twice. Anyone who reads the New Testament without a special reference Bible or surrounded by a bunch of ill-taught teachers who want to sell them a system that is deeply flawed and totally discredited can plainly see the incredible errors in this idea if they stop buying the emotional appeals.

There is one thing I am certain about here – no one knows the day or the hour of the return of Jesus. Why? He said so.

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  1. HeidiRenee August 22, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I left this comment on facebook as a friend high-lighted your blog post:
    Raised Plymouth Brethren – JN Darby was “our boy” – I am surprised that the author never touched on the 2 biggest harms done by this theology – the desperate need for war and the glee that is instilled within the faithful that the earth is being destroyed – those two elements are the harbingers of the imminent return – so “don’t recycle, Jesus will come back quicker” and peace talks are from Satan because God needs war to move the clock along for his return. That is why anything that smacks of earth care or unity is so quickly labeled “liberal”. It is uncanny that they have become the thing they fear the most – “anti-christ”… how does the Prince of Peace bet co-opted into that ugly theology?

  2. Jack August 22, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Famous Hal Lindsey, I would say infamous.

  3. John H. Armstrong August 22, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Thanks Heidi. I agree that these are both harms done but these are done by a smaller minority of those I’ve known. I would guess they are done as “unintentional consequences” of more than a minority but it is not so overt to my mind. Maybe this is because the world I live in is not stoked about this issue anymore.

  4. Thomas August 22, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Mr Armstrong, This is not limited to pre-trib people. Many post-trib premillenial third wave groups are having a large impact in this area as well. Dr. Andrew Jackson has an excellent piece on one such leader and group http://drandrewjackson.com/author/articles/111-forerunner-eschatology

  5. Darren Gruett August 22, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I cannot say I agree with you on all points here, but like yourself, I will be open to changing my mind. As a point of clarification, would you say that the Rapture and the Second Coming are one and the same event? This is something I have wrestled with for a long time.

  6. John H. Armstrong August 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you Darren. By all means read George Ladd when you have the time and interest. Yes, the rapture in Paul’s Thessalonian letter is one and the same event/day as the coming of Christ in the Gospels. When the NT is read this way it is all so simple and makes sense of texts that we turn into difficulties unnecessarily. Only by being taught that there are two separate comings do we arrive at confusion and this teaching is rooted in a system that is built on how we understand Israel and read the OT. It is the system that is flawed; i.e. dispensationalism. It is also a novelty not taught until the 19th century.

  7. Darren Gruett August 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks for that reference. I will have to do some more looking into this for sure.

  8. John H. Armstrong August 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    This is extremely helpful. This “third wave” crowd is another “sect type” movement that divides by using extremes that out beyond classical Christian confession. I am grateful you pointed this out to me and the readers of this blog.

  9. David Rogers August 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Does missional-ecumenism embrace dispensational pre-millennialists, along with others?

  10. John H. Armstrong August 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    David, I take this as a serious question but wonder if you have been reading me for very long. The answer is happily a big yes! I think my post indicates my profound love and respect for my mother, who was an ardent dispensationalist to her last day. Further, no system of this or any similar sort is so deeply flawed as to be a denial of Christ or the gospel. It is, however, the dispensationalist system that has very often led ardent proponents to deny the faith of others and their different ways of reading Scripture. Of course Calvinists and Arminians sometimes do the same thing to each other so this is a common problem for proponents of such human systems of interpretation.

  11. Chris Criminger August 23, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Hi John,
    My earlier experiences with rapture theology are similar to yours.
    I only have two comments to add:
    1. People ought to consider the influence of Study Bibles on Christian theology like the Scholfield Study Bible and Ryre Study Bible.
    2. Popular theology is often taken as orthodox theology. Does not a more careful reading of the Bible challenge this? And what does this say about Christian books that sell the most copies because they are popular? What does this say to our young people who idolize what is popular and cool and faddish?

  12. David Rogers August 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Thanks for the explanation. Just “pushing the edges” a bit to make sure I understand correctly.
    BTW, I have been reading for a couple of years, am on the e-mail list for the ACT 3 mailout, and have read Your Church is Too Small.

  13. John H. Armstrong August 23, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Thanks for pushing the edges. I wasn’t quite sure about how to take the question but I always take questions seriously unless I have a very obvious reason not to do so. I felt you were asking it for a good reason and you clearly were. I am happy to explain why missional-ecumenism is appropriate for ALL Christians who confess Christ, even some who hold to systems and ideas that I find less than helpful to the church at large, as is the case with hard-core dispensationalism. Truthfully there is less hard-core dispensationalism now than ever. Schools like Dallas Theological Seminary still hold the system but have left the worst part of the legacy in the rear view mirror and are much more moderate and engaging with the wider church world these days. This is small evidence of growing missional-ecumenism. Dallas, for example, has a fine missions department and some Grade A teachers and leaders who interact in a wholly new way with the wider church. I applaud all such movement toward our common center in Jesus Christ and the Trinity.

  14. John H. Armstrong August 23, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I forgot to add, thanks for reading me and for reading the ACT 3 Weekly material, which I consider my serious writing in terms of thought and depth.

  15. Bicycles in Bangalore August 24, 2011 at 5:44 am

    I felt you were asking it for a good reason and you clearly were…I cannot say I agree with you on all points here, but like yourself, I will be open to changing my mind

  16. Daniel August 25, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Good work, John. Of course, dispensationalists actually believed in three or even four second comings, because they believed in another second coming at the end of the Millenium. I mean, can you imagine that Jesus will actually return to earth and then let Satan loose again to wage war on Jerusalem (before finally throwing him into the Lake of Fire?
    It was all crazy. Can you imagine Jesus reigning in Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple and having the sacrifices start again?
    The whole theology (Dallas, Moody, etc.) is a thousand miles from what the first Christians believed, let alone what the church taught right up to the middle of the 19th century.

  17. John H. Armstrong August 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Daniel, I couldn’t agree more. The major claims of the system are so preposterous as to beg imagination to a fault.

  18. Greg Metzger August 29, 2011 at 4:18 am

    Thanks for this.

  19. fairmack September 21, 2011 at 12:20 am

    [Great stuff, John. Saw this engaging bit on the web!]
    by Dave MacPherson
    To become a PH.D (Pretrib History Distorter) or a D.D. (Doctrinal Deviant), do the following:
    Wrong and wrong.
    Wrong and wrong again.
    This “straw man” assumption by Jack Kinsella (“Is Dispensationalism a Recent Doctrine?,” 8/11/11) is totally missing from all genuine scholarship, and Jack can’t find her even mentioning that long word!
    Longtime No. 1 pretrib rapture leader John Walvoord’s “Rapture Question” proves (p. 105f) that Margaret’s view (that only PART of the Church gets raptured) has long been a widely held form of the PREtrib view – and Charles Ryrie’s 1981 “rapture” book and other pretrib works have purposely ignored Walvoord!
    Margaret’s 1830 “revelation” saw “the one taken [before Antichrist’s revealing] and the other left.” The PART of the Church left on earth after the rapture was viewed by her collectively as “the Church” – the same wording used in the same way by later partial rapturists! (Google “X-Raying Margaret” and “Edward Irving is Unnerving.”)
    Darby wasn’t original on any crucial aspect of that system including the “church/Israel dichotomy,” the church being absent from a future “Jewish” tribulation, the “Jewish” book of Matthew, the “literal method,” the “Gentile parenthesis,” the “ruin of the church,” and especially the “pretribulation rapture.” Margaret was the first to “discover” pretrib in the Bible and she shared her novel interpretation only privately with others (spring of 1830). Rev. Edward Irving and his followers, who credited Margaret, were the first to publicly teach it (September of 1830) in the Irvingite journal “The Morning Watch.” Darby didn’t clearly express pretrib until 1839 – and when he did he plagiarized the exact same Rev. 12 “man child caught up” argument Irving had publicly used eight years earlier!
    But if you do, copy it like Thomas Ice who in 1989 copied it so quickly he somehow omitted a total of 49 words from different sentences – the same 49 words that Tim LaHaye left behind in his 1992 book “No Fear of the Storm”! LaHaye (pp. 168, 207) also came up with two different titles for Lacunza’s famous old book – neither one correct! (Google “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers” (which reveals that Ice’s “Ph.D” was issued by a school that was fined by the state of Texas for illegally issuing degrees!), “Pretrib Expert John Walvoord Melts Ice,” and “LaHaye’s Temperament.”
    (8) DON’T LET YOURSELF QUOTE ACTS 2:34-35, ACTS 3:21, OR I THESS. 1:7-8.
    Why? They prove that Christ can’t leave heaven ahead of time for a pretrib rapture!
    Such writers used only double meaning or unclear phrases like “escape,” “taken away,” “before the general conflagration,” “before Armageddon” etc. – but many of your readers will believe you if you assert that the ancient writers were really teaching pretrib!
    Even Walvoord couldn’t find ANYONE before the time of Darby (whom Walvoord labeled as an “early pretribulationist”!) who taught pretrib, so Walvoord had to settle for only what seemed to be “imminence” (in three of the earliest church documents) which seemingly could fit into the pretrib scheme – and Walvoord even censored portions of the ancient statements which, when quoted completely, revealed the posttrib view! Is it possible that John Bray, Thomas Ice, Grant Jeffrey and some others can locate – or manufacture – evidence of pretrib before 1830 that even Walvoord couldn’t find?! (To see exposures of those claiming to find pretrib before 1830, Google my internet article entitled “Deceiving and Being Deceived.”)
    If you ignore this advice, at least take some tranquilizers first!
    If you think that stealing isn’t a way of life for pretrib promoters (from Darby to LaHaye), you’ve never Googled “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” or “Thieves’ Marketing.”
    Avoid Googling “Famous Rapture Watchers” which reveals how the greatest New Testament Greek scholars of all time interpreted it.
    Finally, I invite you to obtain my 300-page, highly endorsed online book “The Rapture Plot.” What you’ve read so far in this paper is less than one percent of the mountains of documentation on pretrib rapture history in this book of mine. Some of my web articles, such as the ones listed above, are on various blogs (owned by my good friend Joe Ortiz) including “The End Times Passover” and “Why Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation.” Joe is the author of two excellent books that biblically refute the Rapture to Heaven mythology, namely, “The End Times Passover” and “Why Christians Will Suffer ‘Great Tribulation.’ ”

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